Gene Foster is a modern-day pioneer, a self-made man who has transformed his 40-acre property in Paris, Arkansas, into a self-sufficient homestead. Over the last nine years, Gene has converted a piece of raw land nestled in the beautiful Arkansas valley to a virtual oasis, complete with a 1,600-square-foot rock home, a 5-acre fish pond, and his own nine-hole golf course.
Gene has been in the machining business as owner of Foster Enterprises for 25 years, a trade that has helped him build and modify his independent energy system. When he took a serious look at his retirement options, he realized that his energy costs for 2004 were more than US$3,500, and increasing every year.
The alarm bells started ringing, and he asked himself, “How can I get a better return on the investment in my new home, and plan for my energy future?” Gene set out to lower his energy bills, which at his rate of consumption would total US$35,000 over ten years. He started researching his options on how to provide the four main elements of his home energy needs—heating, hot water, cooling, and electricity. Here is how he did it.
As a first step, Gene set out to reduce his energy demand by insulating his home and shop thoroughly. The original house had wood siding with R-13 insulation. A 1-foot-thick stone facade was added to the home’s exterior, with a 1- to 2-inch (2.5–5 cm) gap between the rock and the original siding. Gene then built a large, south-facing screened porch overlooking the pond to manage the afternoon sun’s impact on his house, and provide a pleasant place to oversee his property.
He replaced his natural gas-fueled range, cooktop, and clothes dryer with propane appliances that are supplied by a 100-pound (45 kg) propane tank, which usually yields a six-month supply. He continues to use these appliances sparingly along with his microwave, which had its clock disconnected to reduce the phantom load. All the lighting in his home and workshop is either compact fluorescent or tubular fluorescent for higher efficiency. He has three ceiling fans and a 3-ton central air conditioner to cool his home. With the exception of the air conditioner, the electrical needs in the house are relatively modest.
In the 40- by 60-foot (12 x 18 m) workshop, he has a full machine shop with lathe, mill, sharpeners, grinders, air compressors, and other assorted tools. These are used to maintain his golf course, and to fabricate the many innovations he has developed. The shop’s electrical load can be large, but most of the time only one device is running. A separate load center in the shop is fed from the main panel at the house. These two AC distribution panels are connected, and now his independent energy system feeds them both. An 18 KW diesel generator is used as a backup power source for battery charging, and to periodically assist large loads like the air conditioner, irrigation pumps, and shop tools.